Israel wants Spain to shelve Gaza probe

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Israel is prepared to contact the Spanish foreign minister, defence minister, and even the prime minister to override the judge’s decision to investigate the 2002 deadly Israeli strike of Gaza.

JERUSALEM – Israel dismissed as "a baseless political manoeuvre" on Monday a decision by a Spanish judge to push on with a war crimes investigation into a deadly Israeli strike in Gaza in 2002.

"The investigation is clearly a cynical and baseless political manoeuvre that is completely unjustified," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

"There is no evidence to support the claims. The Spanish legal system should shelve the process."

Spanish National Court judge Fernando Andreu decided Monday to go ahead with a probe into alleged crimes against humanity by top Israeli military figures over an air force bombing in Gaza in 2002 that killed 15 people.

The one-tonne-bomb dropped in Gaza killed a suspected leader of the Islamist Hamas movement, Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilian which were made up of mainly children.

The move came after public prosecutors in April advised Andreu to halt the inquiry into the complaint lodged by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights against several Israeli ministers and security officials on the grounds that the attack was already under investigation by Israel.

But Andreu denied that such an investigation had been carried out and even if it were, the Spanish judiciary could simultaneously probe the charges since they could be classified as war crimes.

"No criminal investigation which could lead to the possibility of a conflict of jurisdictions has up until now arisen," he wrote in his ruling.

Public prosecutors and military prosecutors in Israel had decided not to open a criminal inquiry and the Israeli Supreme Court had not considered a complaint over the air raid, he said.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak rejected the allegations of war crimes and said he would urge the Spanish government to act against the decision.

"I intend to contact the Spanish foreign minister and defence minister, and if necessary, the Spanish prime minister in order to act to cancel the order," Barak told reporters.

"There is no organisation as moral as the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and I have no doubt that all those who acted then to kill Shehadeh acted with a clear head and with the sole intention of defending Israel's citizens with the available means."

Andreu agreed in January to consider the complaint lodged by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights against former Israeli defence minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and six senior military officials, sparking strong objections from Israel.

The six senior military officials are army chief of staff, General Moshe Yaalon, the then head of the Israeli air force, General Dan Halutz, General Doron Almog, national security council head Giora Eiland, Michael Herzog, a defence ministry official, and Avi Dichter, director of the Shin Beth intelligence agency.

Since 2005, Spain has assumed the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism.

This has served as the grounds for investigations by the National Court into alleged human rights abuses in other countries, from Argentina to Tibet.

Andreu's decision to consider the complaint came just days after Israel's recent offensive against Hamas in Gaza, which according to Gaza medics killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, nearly a third of them children, and injured 5,300 others.

Thirteen Israelis were killed during the 22-day military offensive, which was launched at the end of last year with the declared aim of stopping rocket attacks on southern Israel by Palestinian militants.

AFP / Expatica

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